Given the growing number of arthritis patients and the limitations of current treatments, there is great urgency to explore cartilage substitutes by tissue engineering. In this study, we developed a novel decellularization method for menisci to prepare acellular extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffolds with minimal adverse effects on the ECM. Among all the acid treatments, formic acid treatment removed most of the cellular contents and preserved the highest ECM contents in the decellularized porcine menisci. Compared with fresh porcine menisci, the content of DNA decreased to 4.10%±0.03%, and there was no significant damage to glycosaminoglycan (GAG) or collagen. Histological staining also confirmed the presence of ECM and the absence of cellularity. In addition, a highly hydrophilic scaffold with three-dimensional interconnected porous structure was fabricated from decellularized menisci tissue. Human chondrocytes showed enhanced cell proliferation and synthesis of chondrocyte ECM including type II collagen and GAG when cultured in this acellular scaffold. Moreover, the scaffold effectively supported chondrogenesis of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells. Finally, in vivo implantation was conducted in rats to assess the biocompatibility of the scaffolds. No significant inflammatory response was observed. The acellular ECM scaffold provided a native environment for cells with diverse physiological functions to promote cell proliferation and new tissue formation. This study reported a novel way to prepare decellularized meniscus tissue and demonstrated the potential as scaffolds to support cartilage repair.
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